With police activity intensifying over the various investigations into the affairs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, elements within the Likud party are striking back with a series of what appear to be legal and public measures intended to tarnish the police's standing and image, as well as that of its commissioner.
Wednesday morning, the bill barring the police from recommending indictments at the conclusion of investigations passed—by a majority of 52 in favor versus 42 opposed—following a raucous Knesset debate.
The bill was highly controversial, with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit publicly speaking against it, and the debate preceding it included accusations levied by the coalition purporting the bill was meant to serve Netanyahu's personal interests in stalling for time.
After the vote, Likud members put forward another initiative, once again placing the police and its chief front and center. Channel 2 News reported Likud MKs are planning to propose a bill reducing the commissioner's salary—currently NIS 83,000 a month—while increasing the prime minister's wage—currently NIS 49,000 a month.
The planned reduction was placed in the context of a larger move to slash salaries of senior judiciary, military and police officials, but current Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh's stood out, in light of recent legislative initiatives seeking to cut the statue of police down to size, both legally and in the eyes of the public.
The police's response was severe. "We have nothing else to do but regret the dangerous trend of harming the police in any possible way. Nevertheless, we will not be deterred by any attempts to weaken us," its statement said.
Even more severe was an unnamed former police commissioner, who decried the treatment Alsheikh was receiving as harassment. "They're fighting the commissioner and using mafia tactics to do so. They're sending him one hint after the other, until he understands he shouldn't mess with the prime minister. They're trying to terrorize him," the former police chief said.
Another former police commissioner, who chose to speak on record, was Assaf Hefetz. Hefetz said in a Ynet studio interview he "didn't recall such tongue-lashings. They want to circle the wagons around the prime minister and intimidate the police."
Hefetz also claimed the supposed anti-police legislative initiatives will not influence the law enforcement organization. "Police are strong enough, and the commissioner is strong enough, to withstand these attacks. There's no doubt in my mind both the commissioner and cops are unperturbed by such attacks," he said.
"It's plain to see this commissioner, appointed by the prime minister himself, busies himself was the public interest and the law far more than the interests of any particular individual. It's also plain to see the people behind these initiatives will invariably fail. The public must understand some MKs are abdicating their duties as the public's emissaries and are not acting against the public's interest," Hefetz accused.
The former police commissioner also noted he did not think Netanyahu was pulling the strings behind the scenes. "He distanced himself from them, but they persist on their accord to ingratiate themselves to him. There's no other explanation. They might want to help the prime minister to stop any recommendations being made on his investigations but the recommendation will reach the public no matter what," he said.
"As for the law, we can see the minister of justice opposes it, as do the attorney general and the minister of public security, at least to its current wording," Hefetz concluded.
Meanwhile, sources close to Alsheikh said he was carrying on business as usual, but that he also spoke privately about coming to terms with the fact his term will not be extended past this year, his third in the role.
Responding to the report about his and Alsheikh's salary, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he was not interested in raising his own wage in the least. "The prime minister does deem it necessary to change his salary or the salaries of other top officials," said a source close to him.
However, the above statement bore a striking resemblance to one made last week, at the heights of the public debate surrounding the recommendation law and another bill forbidding police from investigating a sitting prime minister.
"I'm uninterested in any law pertaining to ongoing investigations related to me," Netanyahu said then. Despite this assurance, some have presumed the prime minister's public statements were not necessarily congruent with the go-ahead he gave Likud MKs privately to promote said legislation.
The Israel Police also had a starring turn in a discussion held by the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee, when its chairman MK Dudi Amsalem (Likud) instigated a discussion on "the commissioner's media adviser and police spokeswoman's lashing out at the committee's chair and other MKs."
Amsalem then presented a series of tweets made by Alsheikh's media man Lior Horev, including "Dudi Amsalem, why didn't you pass through (the Prime Minister's Residence) to shine some shoes… They're very angry there" and "The daily winner in the Loco Cock-a-doodle-do Award is Nava Boker."
The Ministry of Public Security's comptroller and police both determined Horev violated the terms of his employment as well as his commitment to avoid "publishing public criticism of government policy." Horev declined comment.
Amihai Attali, Tova Tzimuki, Meir Turgeman, Eli Senyor, Attila Somfalvi and Alexandra Lukash contributed to this report.